Hydrogen will play a central role in the global energy transformation in the coming decades. The level of transformation required to ensure the Paris Agreement's stringent climate targets are met is monumental. Hydrogen, as a replacement for natural gas, and even oil in certain circumstances, is surely the remedy to the climate conundrum.
A recent report from IRENA (International Renewable Energy Agency) suggests that hydrogen is the missing link for the transition to a carbon free future, more specifically green hydrogen.
Decarbonisation depends on how the hydrogen is produced. If electrolysis, the process of splitting water into hydrogen and oxygen through an electric current, can be facilitated by renewables, then it becomes green hydrogen. 0% emissions.
Green hydrogen can revolutionise the heating sector by replacing natural gas in pipelines. Furthermore, hydrogen can revolutionise transport. We have already seen hydrogen cars, but what about hydrogen ships? Or hydrogen trucks and heavier transport? Hydrogen does not have the weight scaling issue that comes with pure battery powered vehicles and can therefore power pretty much all transport, even aeroplanes.
The missing link part comes in when hydrogen acts as a store for excess renewable generation on the grid. Instead of excess power in the grid forcing certain wind farms to turn down (or off completely) at times of excess supply, the additional generation can be stored in hydrogen fuel cells. Thus, when the wind stops blowing, or when the sun stops shining, the excess power from hydrogen can be used in place of the intermittent renewables. These are known as hybrid renewable plants.
In a world right confined to 2 degrees of warming, renewables become the logical method in producing hydrogen. And with more demand for hydrogen comes more demand for renewables and vice-versa, creating a positive economic feedback loop.
If green hydrogen can be produced from inputs such as waste water, sea water, or other forms that do not compromise potential future water shortages, then hydrogen becomes even more desirable.
Can green hydrogen become the key driver in decarbonising the future of electricity generation, transport, and intense industrial processes?
The answer in theory, yes.